The Difference Between Counties And Legislative Districts In Gerrymandering Disputes

Interview: The Supreme Court's Look At Political Trends In Wisconsin Elections
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Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)

Wisconsin is embroiled in a legal battle that could radically reshape the state's political landscape. Literally.

On Oct. 3, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in the case of Gill v. Whitford, in which the plaintiffs argue that Wisconsin State Assembly district boundaries were drawn with a partisan gerrymander in favor of Republican candidates.

A WisContext report detailing analysis by Malia Jones, a demographer with the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Laboratory, was cited by the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee in an amicus brief to the Court. In an Oct. 6, 2017 interview with Wisconsin Public Television’s Here & Now, Jones discussed the way in which her research was interpreted by the RNC didn’t quite paint a full picture of what it addressed. She noted specifically a major difference between analyzing partisan political trends by counties versus legislative districts.

Jones explained that legislative district boundaries are redrawn every 10 years by officials in power in order to adapt to local population changes and maintain equal representation in government. County boundaries, on the other hand, remain fixed over time, by and large, and are not at risk for that type of political manipulation.

"The amicus brief cited our report, which analyzed population density at the county level of Wisconsin and partisanship at the county level," she said. "This case is really about Assembly districts, which in some cases are larger than counties and in some cases much smaller than counties. It's really not an apples-to-apples comparison."

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